The chinchilla is a rodent that is closely related to the guinea pig and porcupine. The pet chinchilla’s wild counterpart inhabits the Andes Mountain areas of Peru, Bolivia, Chile, and Argentina. In the wild state, they live at high altitudes in rocky, barren mountainous regions. They tend to be fairly clean, odorless and friendly pets, but usually are shy and easily frightened. They do not make very good pets for young children, since they tend to be high-strung and hyperactive. The fur is extremely soft and beautiful bluish gray in color. Current color mutations include white, silver, beige, and black.
Some things to consider when choosing a chinchilla as a pet:
Chinchillas must be kept in an area that is well-lit, adequately ventilated and kept cool and dry. They do not tolerate heat or humidity, and they thrive at lower temperatures. Optimal temperature is 60° to 70°F.
Wire mesh cages are typically used for chinchillas, with or without a solid floor. Glass aquariums or plastic containers can be used, but with caution due to their poor ventilation. If these containers are used, watch for the development of scruff fur as an indication of impending problems. Wooden cages should not be used since chinchillas are noted to gnaw. These animals tend to be very active and acrobatic, thus requiring a lot of space. An ideal enclosure would measure at least 6’ x 6’ x 3’ with a 1’ square nest box.
Dust baths should be provided at least one or twice weekly. These must be large and deep enough to allow the chinchilla to roll over in it. Finely powdered volcanic ash is used to keep the fur clean and well groomed. Several brands of “chinchilla dust” are marketed. The bath should only be provided for a short time during the day, otherwise there would be a perpetual dust cloud in the cage.
This condition is characterized by drooling of saliva onto the fur under the chin. Other signs include inappetance, sores in the mouth, and loss of fur under the chin. The underlying cause is overgrowth of the molars (cheek teeth). Mineral imbalances as well as poor dental alignment least to overgrown and maloccluded teeth. Temporary treatment involves clipping of the affected teeth and proper mineral supplementation. Providing wood or mineral blocks for the chinchilla may aid in prevention, but many cases have a genetic basis.
Chinchillas often lose patches of fur when roughly handled. Another common cause if fighting among the chinchillas.
Barbering is the condition where a chinchilla chews on its own or another chinchilla’s fur resulting in a rough, moth-eaten appearing coat. Some of the underlying causes of this behavior include boredom, dirty fur, dietary imbalances and hereditary factors. Providing the animals with chew toys as well as selective breeding often aid in decreasing the incidence within a colony.
High temperatures and high humidity are not tolerated will by chinchillas. Most problems occur in situations where the cage is placed in direct sunlight and poorly ventilated. Affected animals will by lying on their sides and panting. They also feel hot to the touch because of elevated body temperature. Animals in high humidity will also exhibit unkempt, damp fur. Treatment involves misting or bathing them in cool water or applying rubbing alcohol to their footpads.
One of the most common disease conditions of chinchillas is enteritis, or infection of the digestive tract. In many cases, the exact cause may not be determined. Poor husbandry and management is often associated with an outbreak. Clinical signs range from depression to death, with or without diarrhea. Other signs of illness include loss of appetite, partial paralysis and painful abdomen.
Pneumonia is another common condition observed in chinchillas, which is caused by a number of disease agents. Damp, drafty housing often predisposes the pet to this condition. Clinical signs include discharge from the eyes and nose, loss of appetite and rough hair coat. Death may result from this respiratory disease.
It causes hair loss and scabby red lesions on the nose, feet, and around the eyes.